NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. (WPRI) — The Harborside Inn stood watch over Block Island’s Old Harbor for more than 150 years, outliving dozens of U.S. presidencies.
But now, the historic landmark is set to be demolished after a fire tore through it over the weekend.
The three-story hotel, which is one of the first buildings to be spotted by tourists arriving via the Block Island Ferry, was first built in 1870s.
Block Island Historical Society’s Ben Hruska described the hotel as being “part of the mosaic of Water Street.”
“I think it was a building that was taken for granted,” Hruska said. “How many towns have a building that’s 150 years old and designed around tourism? Not many.”
The Harborside Inn was originally known as The Pequot House. It would later be renamed The Royal Hotel before officially becoming the Harborside Inn in the 1990s.
Hruska said the Harborside Inn wasn’t the island’s only historic building that stood the test of time.
“These buildings were built for a different era,” he said. “Block Island has turned itself into a time capsule.”
Hruska said the Harborside Inn was “the key” to Block Island’s history.
“It was in the heart of Block Island as it was transitioning from a farming and fishing community in the 1870s into a tourist destination during the Victorian era,” he explained.
The hotel, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, outlasted numerous pivotal moments in world history.
“The building was about 40 to 45 years old before women even had the right to vote,” Hruska said.
The Harborside Inn was deemed a total loss after it went up in flames late Friday night. Hruska believes it is a loss that will be felt for years.
“It was the heart of Water Street,” he said. “I think it is going to take some time to process exactly what has been lost.”
No one was injured and the cause of the fire remains under investigation at this time. It’s unclear exactly when the remains of the hotel will be torn down, but discussions are already underway as to what could eventually take its place.
Brent Runyan, an independent contractor, believes the property should stay true to its roots.
“It was one of the oldest hotels remaining [on the island], so maybe a replica to honor that history and architecture would be really valuable to both the people who live there and those who visit,” he said.
Hruska said it will take some time before anything is built in the Harborside Inn’s place, especially since the property is located within the Old Harbor Historic District.
The New Shoreham Historic District Commission will be in charge of reviewing and approving proposals for the property’s future use.